Birch wasn’t somewhere you played, it was somewhere you met up with someone to play. And it had the added protection of catering to a fairly small community, so that almost everyone came with references. Or, on nights where you just wanted to hang out in a place where nobody would judge how you looked, it was a good place to be for a bit.
She was a little surprised, then, when she walked in on a Thursday night to find almost nobody there. Thursday was close enough to the weekend that generally it was a little bit busier, people milling around, thinking about an early start to the weekend. She made her way to the bar and ordered a Jack and Coke, asking the bartender, “Where is everyone?”
The bartender made a disgusted face and said, “Hiding from the picketers.”
Abby frowned. “I didn’t see any picketers.”
“Early yet. They come around ten, when the crowd really starts. It’s those dicks from that ‘Cleanse the Capitol’ campaign. A lot of our patrons can’t afford to be outed.”
Abby worked in DC, she knew the score. “Motherfucker.”
He handed her the drink with a tight smile. “Pretty much sums it up.”
She took the drink and tipped him twice what she normally would have.
Gibbs was leaving her lab the next day, assured by her that he’d gotten everything he needed when she said, “Gibbs?”
The tone of her voice must have warned him something was off, because his, “Abs?” was soft, not irritated.
“Um.” She made herself turn toward him. “You know that I’m bisexual, right? And that sometimes, I like to be tied up and told what to do?”
Gibbs looked like he would rather be just about anywhere other than her lab at that moment, but to his credit, he said, “What’s going on, Abs?”
“Just—“ She grabbed one of her pigtails and pulled a bit. “Do I get to be the way I want because I’m good at my job, or because you protect me?”
Gibbs raised a brow. “The way you are?”
She gave him a hard look. “We both know that every day I show up looking like the kind of girl who might enjoy ropes or chains or a whip or two during sex that I might as well be making a political statement with my appearance. And that I only get to because someone keeps stepping up for me.”
“Sure, the director, as soon as whomever it is currently gets to know you.”
“And until then?” she challenged.
“Would you want to work for somewhere that judged your work ethic based on your personal choices?”
“The personal is political,” she told him, feeling more than a little bitter.
“If it was here, probably.” That was the worst part. She knew, with almost complete certainty, she would shut her mouth, be one of those people that walked away from the picketers at Birch, if it meant she could keep this job.
“The personal isn’t always political,” Gibbs told her softly.
“Sure, if you’re unmarked.”
Gibbs hesitated. It seemed more like a pause, but she knew him well enough to understand what it really was. Finally, he asked, “Do you believe you don’t have a right to privacy?”
She waited for a moment until she found the answer that made the most sense in her head. “I believe that until privacy is the normative standard across the spectrum of sexuality and sexual behavior that my desire for privacy is moot.”
“Unfulfillable is not a synonym for moot.”
“Really?” She made herself keep eye contact.
He stepped into her space and kissed her temple. “Really, Abs.”
She didn’t believe him, but the fact that he was willing to say that for her made her feel better all the same. She fingered one of the spikes on her collar as she watched him walk away, then turned back to the case.